McGrath: State Has Authority Over Interstate Exchange of Felons
HELENA – In an opinion released Monday, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath held that a local detention center may not enter into a contract to house adult offenders from out of state except for the purposes authorized by state law.
Hardin City Attorney Rebecca Convery requested the opinion in relation to the Two Rivers Detention Center. The City of Hardin and the City of Lodge Grass entered into an agreement to operate the facility in Hardin, and contracted with a private party to run the detention center. Convery asked whether such a detention center may enter into contracts to incarcerate adult offenders convicted in jurisdictions outside Montana.
Local facilities were historically called “county jails” until 1989, when the Legislature changed the name to “detention centers.” Despite the name change, the centers were still operated and managed by local authorities.
Also in 1989, the Montana Legislature adopted legislation that expanded the traditional uses of a county jail – renamed a detention center – to include confinement of prisoners sentenced to the state prison. It was the first time lawmakers authorized long-term confinement of convicted felons in a facility other the state prison.
Regardless of the change, however, there was no indication that the Legislature was altering the traditional use of a county jail/detention center to include long-term confinement of out-of-state or federal felons.
“Such a change would completely transform the nature of the facility… it could feasibly fill to capacity with out-of-state offenders and no longer be available to the Department (of Corrections) for placement of Montana offenders,” the opinion says.
McGrath also held that state’s Department of Corrections – not a local detention center – has authority over the exchange between states of convicted felons.
“In summary, there is nothing granting independent authority to a detention center to freely contract with out-of-state or federal authorities for long-term confinement of inmates convicted in other jurisdictions,” the opinion states.
Opinions of the attorney general carry the weight of law unless a court overturns them or the legislature modifies the laws involved.